Hidden Gems

Weirder than a football bat.

That’s how some of our students feel. Awkward. Insecure. More aware of what they do “wrong” than what they do “right”.

If I had to sum up my greatest role as a teacher, it is to be a voice in their lives that says “I believe in you”. To be someone in their journey along the path of life that says, “you’re special”. “You’re bright.” “You matter.”

In her precious book, “Hidden Gems” Katherine Bomer encourages teachers to undergo a paradigm shift in their writing instruction, moving from a focus on what is wrong or missing, to instead find the jewels inside student writing that are waiting to be polished.

As I tell my students all the time, writing is an act of courage. It takes bravery and vulnerability to inscribe our thoughts, ideas and reflections on the page. On a larger scale, doesn’t the role of being a student require a similar bravery? Kids are asked to submit themselves to a host of busy adults; conform to rules, policies, and structures different than their home environment; navigate relationships with a plethora of peers, and cultivate diligence, flexibility, and organizational skills all while learning on the job.

With all the challenges that our students face, it is easy for them to focus on their perceived mistakes, shortcomings, and deficits. If we’re honest, it is easier for us to focus on those things as well.

But serving as educators provides us the golden opportunity to be a respected voice in their journey. A voice that can build up, instead of tear down. A voice that can kindle a dream, rather than douse it.

As we ended the school year, I gave each of my students a goodbye letter. We recounted our journey along the past year, what we learned, how we grew, and the difference that we made. I reminded them of the awesomeness that resides in each one of them, and what an honor and privilege it has been to be a part of their journey. Lastly, I assure them if they ever forget their identity of brilliance, that I will always be their teacher and friend; just a click, call, or visit away – to polish their memory that they are the hidden gems.



3 thoughts on “Hidden Gems

  1. Yes, writing does take courage. In class, when we applaud students who have just shared a piece of work, I remind the kids that we are acknowledging not just the composition but the willingness of the writer to share it–the willingness to be brave and take the risk of putting herself or himself out there.

    Thank you for this post, Greg. It’s a wonderful reminder of the important role teachers play in supporting students’ emotional growth. I especially like the idea of an end-of-year letter. I write to my students to welcome them at the beginning of the year; now I’ll write to them at the close of our time together, too!


  2. Such a great reminder to look at the positives – in our students, our situations, and even ourselves. There are uncovered jewels out there!


  3. Greg, great reminder to look at our students’ strengths and talents. I especially relate to the comments about helping students find their inner writing gems, since they can easily get bogged down in “correctness” (leading to stifled creativity). Instead of calling yourself a writing teacher, consider yourself a gemologist-specializing in precious and rare jewels.


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